Thursday, May 23, 2013

Annual Reviews - A Different Agenda

When it comes time for mid-term or annual reviews there are obviously things a MANAGER needs to tell an employee.  But if you are a good LEADER you have consistently given in-the-moment feedback on the things that the employee does well and the things the employee does not do well.  And so the annual review becomes a practice in "busy" work for both.

performance review agenda for high performing employees
So how does a LEADER effectively use the reflective time called the "annual review" if both the employee and the leader know all the nuances of that piece of paper?  Admit it is just a formality, shake the employee's hand, sign the necessary paperwork, and send the employee off with a new assignment?  Possibly.  Or the leader can use that time in a way that will serve the employee, the leader, and the organization for the next six to twelve months.

Here is a proposed agenda for leaders who want to maximize the annual review time with high-performing employees:

1.  Welcome the employee to the office.

2.  Recognize that you have two options.  You can process the paperwork and move on or you can have a serious conversation about the employee's goals.

3.  Explain to the employee why he or she is so important to the organization that you want to take the time out of both of your schedules to make the annual review productive.

4.  Ask the employee if he or she is open to a slightly different agenda for the annual review.

5.  If no, go about the meeting as usual.  If (as is far more likely) the employee says yes, ask the employee what he or she enjoyed most about the work during the period in question.  (ENJOYED, not what he or she is most proud of.)

6.  This is the hardest part.  Do not say anything, just listen.  When the employee stops talking, count slowly to twenty without starting to talk in case the employee is still processing.  Be comfortable with the silence.  Really listen to what skills the employee is discussing when he or she talks.  Ask open ended questions to narrow down what it is that the employee liked.  Keep asking open ended questions until you really understand what was different about this project.  Resist the urge to editorialize.  Make a few notes about the skills the employee identified as enjoying.

For example, assume Jane, from your Finance Team, enjoyed working with the Marketing Team on the Annual Review.  Perhaps she liked the strategic thinking, the written communication, the collaboration, or the continual learning.  You might ask, "what was the most interesting aspect of the project for you?"  Jane might respond that she enjoyed summarizing the technical data into something that was accurate but geared towards a different audience.  She might say she liked working with the creative types over there.  Or she might say it helped her understand the company and her role in it better.

7.  Ask if there is one thing the employee could change about the job he or she is in now, what would it be?  Again, be comfortable with the silence, ask probing open ended questions without editorial comments, and make notes.

8.  Ask the employee what type of stretch developmental assignment he or she would find challenging and rewarding over the next time frame.  You know the rules.

9.  Give the employee a copy of his or her annual review, his or her job description, the three questions you asked and the notes you made while the employee spoke.  Ask the employee to take two weeks to review the documents, think about the questions, make notes to supplement the answers, and develop three goals for the next performance period.  Ask the employee to schedule the follow up meeting with you and provide you with the three goals in advance of the meeting (however long you need to do your part).  You have fulfilled your review responsibilities and now it is the employee's responsibility to take charge of his or her own professional development.

10.  When you receive the employee's chosen goals, review the annual review, the job description, the notes you made during the first meeting, and the goals.  Look for at least one developmental challenge assignment that meets a goal for at least two of the goals.  Think of three or four other people in your company with whom the employee can schedule an informational interview or shadow day during the performance period and ask them if they would be willing to help you develop one of your emerging leaders.  For each person identified, write down two or three things you think the employee would learn from the person.  Pick up to three book recommendations you think might fit within the employee's goals.

11.  During the second meeting, spend the first (and largest chunk) asking open ended questions about the goals the employee has chosen to make sure you understand what he or she was looking for.  (Challenge all assumptions you made.)

12.  Collaborate to align the employee's personal goals with the goals of your team and the organization.

13.  Have the employee choose two of the three refined goals as his or her main developmental focus during the next rating period.  Collaborate on at least three specific activities for each of the two goals.  Ask the employee to add three more over the next two weeks and give you the final list.

14.  Discuss any of the items from Step 10 that may still be relevant given the two final refined goals.  (Notice this is after you have collaborated on three specific activities.  Do not jump in to give your suggestions until you have worked through the collaboration portion thoroughly.)  Pick only the one book that is the most relevant after the second discussion to recommend.

15.  Continue providing in-the-moment feedback (positive and negative) during the next rating period.  Make sure you recognize any improvements you see as a result of the items the employee has chosen to focus on.  Periodically (not more than every six weeks) check in with the employee on his or her progress on the individual development plan (but whatever you do don't call it that!) and see if the employee wants to discuss how it is going.  If so, go into the ask open ended questions, don't provide editorial comments, and really listen mode.

Note, during the first meeting, the leader is only asking questions and taking notes.  This will help you limit the tendency we all have to start formulating a response in our mind while the other party is still talking.  You don't get to talk so there is nothing to formulate.  You are only taking notes!  Your chance at advising is done when you are preparing for the second meeting.  The work during the third meeting is meant to be collaborative.  You want to have something to give the employee at the end so you want to make sure you don't use it early.  This will allow the employee to continue to define the nature of the goals so you can test your assumptions.

I can hear you now, annual reviews are too time-consuming as it is and my employees are already overworked.  We don't have time to do this.  This "review" process takes place over a month and probably adds two extra hours to both schedules during that time.  Assuming a 40-hour work week, that is just barely 1% of each person's work time.  A small time investment that, done right, will reap rewards for the employee (developmental), you (increase developing others skill), your team (a more engaged employee), and your organization (increased productivity from the employee, you, and your team).  Can you really afford not to do this?

What are your thoughts?  What was it like to listen and take notes only during the first meeting?  What were the employees' reactions during and after the process?  Would you use this agenda again?